Understanding the Hidden Connection Between Sleep and Sex
What You Need to Know About the Relationship Between Sleep and Sex
Both sleep and sex are important for your health and well-being. But most people don’t realize that one affects the other — the quality of your sleep can determine the quality of your sex life, and vice-versa. For example, research shows that sleep disorders increase the risk of erectile dysfunction. And you know how having an orgasm can make you drowsy? It’s due to the release of certain hormones.
“Sleep and sex go hand in hand. Both are important for physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being, and problems in one often contribute to problems in the other,” says Sarah Melancon, PhD, sociologist and clinical sexologist at Sex Toy Collective. Melancon previously worked in a sexual health clinic that included both sexual dysfunction and sleep programs. Frequently, sexual dysfunction patients also had sleep disturbances — this is no coincidence.
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Understanding the relationship between sleep and sex can help you improve your habits to optimize these two key areas of your lifestyle. Here’s what you need to know.
Poor Sleep Can Hinder Your Sex Life
“Sleep is a restorative time that regulates the endocrine system, which produces our sex hormones,” according to Melancon. For example, testosterone is an important sex hormone for men, fueling sex drive. Sleep affects the natural rhythm of your testosterone levels and can thus affect your sexual health and libido. Research has shown that sleep loss reduces testosterone levels in males. “Testosterone works partly in alignment with our circadian rhythm, peaking in the morning and falling throughout the day. In particular, REM sleep is important for testosterone synthesis and appears associated with nocturnal erections,” adds Melancon.
So, if you suffer from insomnia or don’t get enough quality sleep, it can have an impact on your ability to crave sex and perform in the bedroom — partly because of the link between sleep and testosterone, but also because of other factors. For instance, one study found a significant connection between insomnia and sexual dysfunction. According to the researchers behind the study, stress may be to blame, as being stressed may not only cause sleep disturbances, but can also negatively affect sexual function.
Sleep apnea is a potential disruptor as well: several studies have found a link between sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction. The takeaway? Sleep hygiene matters more than you think when it comes to your sex life.
Having Sex Can Improve Your Sleep
Now that you understand how sleep can affect sex, let’s consider how sex can affect sleep. The most important thing that you need to know is that an active sex life can improve the quality of your sleep.
“If you have found yourself drowsy and uncontrollably sleepy after sex, it is normal. When a man reaches ejaculation, various chemicals are released from the brain, including prolactin, vasopressin and oxytocin. Prolactin is a hormone present in sleep and is also linked to sexual satisfaction in men. When you have sex, the orgasms from intercourse releases prolactin four times more than prolactin released during masturbation,” according to Nicole Eichelberger, a BSM-certified sleep experts specializing in insomnia, apnea, and circadian rhythm disorders and a consultant at Mattressive. According to her, during sex, your levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — also drop. As she puts it, “sex can positively affect a man’s life, as a man with an active sex life sleeps better.”
There’s an interesting other side of the coin — sexual frustration, which can increase stress and interfere with a good night of sleep. “Sexual frustration may be conceptualized as sexual tension plus a lack of satisfying release, accompanied by feelings of stress, anxiety, or even anger — all of which interfere with sleep,” says Melancon.
Improve Both Your Sleep and Sexual Health
To recap the information above, sleep disturbances can cause problems in the bedroom, yet having sex can improve your sleep. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, but you can take steps to turn it into a virtuous one and improve both your sleep and sex life.
The first order of business is aiming to get a full night’s sleep every night — longer sleep is associated with healthy testosterone levels, according to Melancon, who recommends living in accordance with your natural circadian rhythm to help you get there. How? Go to bed early and awake around sunrise. Get early-morning and midday sunlight on your skin and in your eyes (without glasses). Use blue light-blocking glasses in the evening and red glasses an hour before bed to stimulate the release of melatonin, which helps you feel sleepy. “TrueDark is a good brand,” says Melancon.
Exercise is also crucial, as it improves both sleep and sexual function. You’ll also want to take care of your mental wellbeing. “Use mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, qigong, or related practices to relax and de-stress. Mindfulness has been found to improve erectile dysfunction,” adds Melancon. Finally, as Philip Lindeman, MD, PhD, a physician and sleep specialist at GhostBed suggests, avoid excessive alcohol: “It’s not going to help sex or sleep.”
If you adopt all the lifestyle changes above and still struggle with sleep and sex, talk to your doctor — there may be underlying medical issues to address, such as getting treatment for sleep apnea. Great sex and sleep await.
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